The bombings in Madrid: Capitalism sows death

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The bombings in Madrid

Thursday, 11th March, 7 o'clock in the morning: bombs blast a train in a working-class district of Madrid. The bombs of capitalist war have once again struck a defenceless civilian population, just as blindly as they did when they dropped on Guernica, or during the bombardments of World War II. The bombs “dropped” indiscriminately against men, women, children, adolescents, and even against immigrants from “muslim” countries who in some cases - to render tragedy still more tragic - did not even dare to come forward to claim the bodies of their dead for fear of being arrested and expelled from the country as a result of their illegal status.

Just like the attack on the Twin Towers, this massacre is a real act of war. Nonetheless, there is a major difference between the two: whereas on 11th September, the target was a major symbol of the power of US capitalism - although there was an obvious intention to kill in order to reinforce the horror and the terror of the act - this time the act had no symbolic value: this strike against a civilian population was merely another killing in an ongoing war. The 11th September was an event of world importance, an unprecedented massacre on American soil whose main victims were the workers and office employees of New York. It gave a pretext to the American state - a pretext fabricated by those who deliberately allowed the preparations for the attack to go ahead, despite being informed about them in advance - to inaugurate a new period in the deployment and exercise of its imperialist power: henceforth, the US announced that, in the “war against terror” they would strike alone, anywhere in the world, to defend their interests. The 11th March does not open a new period, it makes a banality out of horror. It is no longer a matter of choosing targets for their symbolic propaganda value, but of direct strikes against the working population. While the rich and the powerful were killed in the Twin Towers, there were none in the 7:00 train in the suburb of Atocha.

It is of course the “done thing” today, to denounce the crimes of the Nazis and Stalinists. But during World War II, the democratic powers also bombarded the civilian population, and especially the working class, with the aim of spreading terror, reducing the enemy's ability to fight, and even, at the end of the war, deliberately devastating working-class districts in order to put an end to any possibility of a proletarian uprising. The increasingly massive bombardments, night and day, of German cities towards the end of the war, are in themselves a stinging condemnation of the nauseating hypocrisy of all those governments who denounce those acts on the part of others, which they themselves have never hesitated to undertake (Iraq, Chechnya, Kosovo, are only some of the most recent examples of occasions when the civilian population has been targeted as a result of the rivalries between great powers). The terrorists who struck in Madrid were well schooled indeed.[1]

Contrary to all prior predictions, the right-wing Aznar government was defeated in the elections that followed the Atocha bombing. According to the press, the socialist Zapatero's victory was made possible essentially by two factors: a much greater turn-out by workers and young people, and a profound anger against the maladroit attempts by the Aznar government to avoid the question of the war in Iraq and to put all the blame on the Basque terrorist organisation ETA.

We have already recounted how the attack on the Twin Towers was followed, in some cases, by spontaneous reactions of solidarity and the rejection of warmongering propaganda in the working class districts of New York,[2] but also how these reactions of solidarity, unable to express themselves independently, proved inadequate to provoke a class reaction and were turned into support for the pacifist movement against the intervention in Iraq. Similarly, many of those who voted against Aznar did so to condemn the government's shameless attempts at manipulation - when the very fact of voting represents a victory for the bourgeoisie which in this case used it to give credence to the idea that it is possible to “vote against war”.

Why this crime?

For the revolutionary working class, it is vital to understand reality in order to change it. Communists therefore have a great responsibility to analyse the event, to take part as much as they are able in the effort of understanding that the whole proletariat must engage in, if it is to oppose an adequate resistance to the danger that the decomposition of capitalist society represents.

The terror attack on Madrid was an act of war. But it is war of a new kind. The bombs no longer carry the label of their country of origin, or of any particular imperialist interest. The first question we must ask is therefore: who could profit from the crime of Atocha?

We can say from the outset - just for once - that the American bourgeoisie had nothing to do with it. True, the very fact of the attack gives credence to the central idea of US propaganda that all are involved in the same “war on terror”. However, it totally discredits any suggestion by the US that the situation in Iraq is improving to the point where they will soon be able to give up power to a duly constituted Iraqi government. More important still, the arrival in power of the Spanish bourgeoisie’s socialist fraction is a threat to the United States’ strategic interests. In the first place, if Spain withdraws its troops from Iraq, then this will be a bad blow to the US: it will be a blow not, of course, at the military but at the political level against their claims to be leading a “coalition of the willing” against terrorism.

The Spanish socialists represent a wing of the bourgeoisie which has always been turned more towards France and Germany, and which intends to play the card of European integration. Their arrival in power immediately opened up a period of discreet negotiations, whose conclusions it would be difficult to predict at the time of writing. After his post-election declaration that Spanish troops would be withdrawn from Iraq Zapatero almost immediately back-peddled and announced that they would remain, on condition that the United Nations should take over responsibility for the occupation. This hedging by the Spanish, not only calls into question Spain’s participation in the US coalition in Iraq, but also its role as America’s Trojan Horse in Europe, as well as the whole deck of alliances within the European Union. Up to now, Spain, Poland, and Britain – each for its own reasons – have formed a “pro-US” coalition against the ambitions of France and Germany to rally the rest of Europe to their policy of opposition to Uncle Sam. For Poland, the despatch of troops to Iraq was essentially designed to buy America’s good graces, and thereby a powerful support against German pressure, at the critical moment of Poland’s entry into the European Union. If Spain really does leave the US coalition and returns to a pro-German orientation in Europe, which seems more than likely, then it remains to be seen whether Poland has the bottle to oppose France and Germany without the support of its Spanish ally. The latest “private” – and of course immediately denied – declarations by the Polish PM, complaining that the US had “taken him for a fool” certainly cast a certain doubt over such a possibility.

The USA has thus suffered a serious blow, and is likely to lose not just an ally – or even two – in Iraq, but above all a foothold in Europe.[3] The defection of Spain and Poland is likely seriously to weaken the American bourgeoisie’s ability to play world cop.

The United States and the Aznar fraction of the Spanish bourgeoisie are the main losers from the attack. Who then are the winners? France and Germany, obviously, along with the “pro-socialist” fraction of the Spanish bourgeoisie. Could we then imagine a “dirty trick”, using Islamist salafists as pawns, by the French, German or Spanish secret services?

Let us begin by eliminating the argument that “such things aren’t done” in democratic states. We have already shown[4] how the secret services can be led to play a direct role in the internecine conflicts and settling of scores within the national ruling class. The example of the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro in Italy is particularly edifying in this respect. Presented by the media as a crime committed by the leftist Red Brigades, the Aldo Moro assassination was in fact carried out by the Italian secret service that had infiltrated the group: Aldo Moro was killed by the dominant, pro-American fraction of the Italian bourgeoisie because he proposed to bring the Italian Communist Party (which at the time was wholly in the orbit of the USSR) into a coalition government.[5] However, to try to influence the results of an election – in other words the reactions of a large part of the population – by dynamiting a suburban train, is an operation of an altogether different dimension from the assassination of one man to eliminate an awkward element within the bourgeoisie. Too many uncertainties and imponderables affect the situation. The intended result (the defeat of the Aznar government and its replacement by a socialist one) depended in large part on the reaction of the Aznar government itself: all the electoral analysts agree that the result of the elections was in large part influenced by the incredible ineptitude of the government’s increasingly desperate attempts to pin responsibility on the ETA.[6] The result could well have been completely different had Aznar been able to profit from the event by trying to rally the electorate around a struggle for democracy and against terrorism. Moreover, the risks of the operation going wrong were far too great. When we consider the inability of the French DGSE[7] to carry out small-scale operations with any success (the mining of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior, or the lamentable failure of the attempt to recover Ingrid Bettancourt from the Colombian FARC) and without being discovered, it is hard to imagine that the French government would allow it to undertake such an operation as the Atocha bombing on the territory of a European “friend”.

What war?

We have said that the attack in Atocha, like that on the Twin Towers, is an act of war. But what kind of war? During the first period of capitalism’s decadence, imperialist wars declared themselves openly as such: the great imperialist blood-letting of 1914 and 1939 called into play the Great Powers, with all the panoply of their national, military, diplomatic, and ideological arsenals. In the period of the great imperialist blocs (1945-1989), the rival blocs confronted each other via their proxy pawns: even then, it was more difficult to identify who was really behind the wars that were often presented as movements of “national liberation”. With capitalism’s entry into its phase of decomposition, we have already identified several tendencies which are to be found intertwined in today’s terrorist attacks:

-     “the development of terrorism, or the seizure of hostages, as methods of warfare between states, to the detriment of the ‘laws’ that capitalism established in the past to ‘regulate’ the conflicts between different ruling class factions

-         the development of nihilism, despair, and suicide amongst young people…

-         the tidal waves of drug addiction, which has now become a mass phenomenon and a powerful element in the corruption of states and financial organisms…

-         the profusion of sects, the renewal of the religious spirit including in the advanced countries, the rejection of rational, coherent thought…” (“Theses on decomposition, 1990, reprinted in International Review no107).

These “Theses” were published in 1990, at a time when the use of terrorist attacks (for example the bombs in the streets of Paris during 1986-87) were essentially the responsibility of third- or fourth-rate states such as Syria, Libya, or Iran: terrorism was, as one might say, the “poor man’s atom bomb”. Fifteen years later, the rise of so-called “islamist” terrorism presents us with a new phenomenon: the disintegration of the states themselves, and the appearance of warlords using young kamikazes, whose only perspective in life is death, to advance their interests on the international chessboard.

Whatever the details – which still remain obscure – of the attack in Madrid, it is obviously linked to the American occupation in Iraq. Presumably, those who ordered the attack intended to “punish” the Spanish “crusaders” for their participation in the occupation of Iraq. However, the war in Iraq today is far from being a simple movement of resistance to the occupation conducted by a few irreconcilable supporters of Saddam Hussein. On the contrary, this war is entering a new phase, that of a kind of international civil war which is spreading throughout the Middle East. In Iraq itself, there are increasingly frequent confrontations not only between the “resistance” and US forces, but also between the “Saddamites”, Wahhabite Sunnis (the sect which gave birth to Bin Laden), Shiites, Kurds, and even Turkmen. In Pakistan, a discreet civil war is in progress, with the bomb attack against a Shiite procession (40 dead), and a large-scale military operation in progress as we write in Waziristan. In Afghanistan, all the reassuring declarations about the consolidation of the Kabul government cannot hide the fact that the latter’s writ runs no farther than Kabul itself, and that only with difficulty, while civil war continues to rage throughout the southern part of the country. In Israel and Palestine, the situation is going from bad to worse, as Hamas has started to use young children to carry its bombs. In Europe itself, the resurgence of violence between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo is a sign that the wars in ex-Yugoslavia have not come to an end, but have merely been smothered temporarily by the massive presence of occupying troops.

We are no longer faced here with an imperialist war of the “classic” sort, but with a general disintegration of society into warring bands. We might draw an analogy with the situation in China at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The phase of capitalism's decomposition is characterised by a blockage in the balance of forces between the reactionary bourgeois class and the revolutionary proletariat; the situation of the Middle Empire was characterised by a blockage between on the one hand the old feudal-absolutist class and its caste of mandarin bureaucrats, and on the other a rising bourgeoisie which nonetheless remained too weak, due to the specificities of its evolution, to overthrow the imperial regime. As a result, the empire disintegrated into a multitude of fiefdoms, each one dominated by its warlord, and whose incessant conflicts were bereft of any rationality on the level of historical development.

This tendency towards the disintegration of capitalist society will in no way hinder the strengthening of state capitalism, still less will it transform the imperialist states into society's protectors. Contrary to what the ruling class in the developed countries would like to make us believe – for example by calling the Spanish population to vote “against terrorism” or “against war” – the great powers are in no way “ramparts” against terrorism and social decomposition. On the contrary, they are the prime culprits. Let us not forget that today’s “Axis of Evil” (Bin Laden and his kind) are yesterday’s “freedom fighters” against the “Evil Empire” of the USSR, armed and financed by the Western bloc. And this is not finished, far from it: in Afghanistan, the United States used the unsavoury warlords of the Northern Alliance to topple the Taliban, and in Iraq the Kurdish peshmergas. Contrary to what they would like us to think, the capitalist state will be increasingly armoured against external military threats and internal centrifugal tendencies, and the imperialist powers – whether they be first- , fourth-, or nth-rate – will never hesitate to use warlords and terrorist gangs to their own advantage.

The decomposition of capitalist society, precisely because of capitalism’s worldwide domination and its vastly superior dynamism in transforming society compared to all previous social forms, takes on more terrible forms than ever in the past. We will highlight just one of them here: the terrible obsession with death weighing on the young generations. Le Monde of 26th March quotes a Gaza psychologist: “a quarter of young boys over 12 have only one dream – to die as a martyr”. The article continues: “The kamikaze has become a respected figure in the streets of Gaza, and young children dress up in play explosive waistcoats in imitation of their elders”.

As we wrote in 1990 (“Theses on decomposition”): “It is vital that the proletariat, and the revolutionaries within it, grasp the full extent of the deadly threat that decomposition represents for society as a whole. At a moment when pacifist illusions are likely to develop, as the possibility of world war recedes, we must fight with the utmost energy any tendency within the working class to seek for consolation and to hide from the extreme gravity of the world situation”. Since then, sad to say, this call has gone largely unheeded – or even treated with contempt – by the meagre forces of the communist left. Consequently, we are beginning in this issue of the Review a series on the marxist basis of our analysis of capitalism’s phase of decomposition.

A class of vultures

The Spanish bourgeoisie was not directly responsible for the bombing at Atocha. This did not stop it from seizing on the workers corpses like a flock of vultures. Even in death, the workers served the ruling class to feed its machine of propaganda for the nation and for democracy. To cries of “Spain united will never be defeated”, the whole bourgeois class – left and right together – used the emotion provoked by the bombing to push the workers into the voting booths that many would otherwise have deserted. Whatever the electoral outcome, the particularly high rate of participation is already a victory for the bourgeoisie because it means – temporarily at least – that a large part of the Spanish working class believed that they could rely on the bourgeois state to protect them from terrorism, and that for it to do so, they should defend the democratic unity of the Spanish nation.

Worse still, and quite apart from the national unity around the defence of democracy, the aim of the different fractions of the Spanish bourgeoisie has been to use the bombings to win the support of the population, and of the working class, for their opposing strategic and imperialist choices. By designating Basque separatism as the guilty party – despite all proof to the contrary – the Aznar government wanted to associate the proletariat to the strengthening of the Spanish state police. By denouncing the responsibility of Aznar’s support for Bush and the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq, the socialists aim to make the workers’ endorse another strategic choice – the alliance with the Franco-German tandem.

An understanding of the situation created by capitalism’s decomposition is thus more necessary than ever for the proletariat, if it is to recover and defend its class independence against the bourgeois propaganda which aims to transform the workers into mere “citizens”, dependent on the democratic state.

Elections come and go, the crisis remains

The bourgeoisie may have won a victory during the elections in Spain. It remains totally incapable of putting a break on the economic crisis in which its system is plunged. Today, the attacks on the working class are no longer at the level of this or that company, or even this or that industry, but of the working class as a whole. In this sense, the attacks on pensions and social security in all the European countries (and in a different form in the United States, through the disappearance of pension schemes in stock-exchange disasters such as Enron), are creating a new situation to which the working class must respond. Our understanding of this situation, which provides the global framework for our analysis of the class struggle today, is presented in the report on the class struggle published in this issue.

Faced with the barbarity of war and the decomposition of capitalist society, the working class can and must rise to meet the danger that threatens it, not just at the level of an immediate resistance to economic attacks, but above all at the level of a general political understanding of the mortal danger threatening the human species with capitalism’s continued survival. As Rosa Luxemburg wrote in 1915: “World peace cannot be maintained by utopian or frankly reactionary plans, such as international tribunals of capitalist diplomats, diplomatic conventions on ‘disarmament’ (…) etc. It will never be possible to eliminate, or even to hold back, imperialism, militarism, and war as long as the capitalist classes continue to exercise their uncontested class domination. The only way to resist them successfully and to preserve world peace, is the international proletariat’s capacity for political action, and its revolutionary determination to throw its weight into the balance”.


Jens, 28/03/04


[1]. See the article “Massacres and crimes of the great democracies” in International Review no 66. The democrats who today denounce Stalin's crimes were less particular during World War II when “Uncle Joe” was their valued ally against Hitler. Another example, nearer to our own time, is given by the most holy and Christian Tony Blair, who has just visited that well-known benefactor of humanity, Muammar Gaddafi. Never mind that the latter is considered to be responsible for the lethal aircraft bombing over Lockerbie in Scotland, still less the brutal and repressive nature of the Libyan regime. There is oil in Libya, and an opportunity for Britain to gain a strategic position in North Africa through military agreements with the Libyan army.

[2]. See International Review no 107.

[3]. This article does not have the ambition to analyse the configuration of the rivalries between the European Union’s national ruling classes. However, we can say in passing that the reorientation of the Spanish government also deals a heavy blow to British interests. Not only does Britain lose its Spanish ally against France and Germany in the muted conflicts that traverse the instances of the EU bureaucracy, its Polish ally is also weakened by Spain’s defection.

[4]. See “How the bourgeoisie is organised” in International Review no 76-77.

[5]. A similar case is that of the attack, on 12th December 1969, against the Banco di Agricoltura in Milan, which left fifteen dead. The bourgeoisie immediately laid the blame on the anarchists. To give credence to this idea, they even “suicided” the anarchist Pio Pinelli who had been arrested directly afterwards, by organising his “flight” from a window of the Milan Questura (police station). In fact – though of course there is no official version of the facts – the attack was carried out by fascists linked to the Italian and American secret services.

[6]. Terrorist movement for the independence of the Basque country.

[7]. Direction Généale de Sécurité Extérieure (spying abroad).




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